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Notre Dame prepares for physical Stanford

Tailback Stepfan Taylor has been Stanford’s go-guy. He is pace rush for 1000 yards for third consecutive season. | George

Tailback Stepfan Taylor has been Stanford’s go-to guy. He is on pace to rush for 1,000 yards for a third consecutive season. | George Nikitin~AP

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The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 5, 890-AM.

Updated: November 14, 2012 3:07PM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Beat Stanford? Sure, Notre Dame would like to beat Stanford.

But the Irish also would like to be Stanford. Or, at least, be more like Stanford.

Big. Physical. Intimidating. Able to impose their will on an opponent.

“They use that size and that aggression to potentially intimidate their opponents, and they’re great at it,” safety Matthias Farley said. “Matching that physicality, and matching that mental toughness, is what we’re going for.”

There’s no doubt the No. 7 Irish have become more physical and more aggressive. The defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in three consecutive games, and the offense ran roughshod over Miami last week. But No. 17 Stanford — a team that’s had its way with the Irish in the last three meetings — is no Miami. When a reporter asked Brian Kelly how Cardinal players “try” to intimidate opponents, he quickly jumped in:

“They don’t try, they do,” he said.

Offensively, Stanford is a lot more like Michigan State than Notre Dame’s last two opponents, Michigan and Miami. The Cardinal won’t get too fancy, not with star tailback Stepfan Taylor, who’s on pace for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. He ran for 118 yards in last year’s 28-14 victory over Notre Dame, and 108 yards in a 37-14 shellacking in South Bend in 2010.

Stanford will take to the air with quarterback Josh Nunes and gargantuan tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, but it begins and ends with Taylor, right up the gut.

“Stanford doesn’t verbally intimidate teams,” Irish linebacker Manti Te’o said. “Whenever you have a smashmouth mentality, like Stanford, and you know what they’re going to do yet can’t seem to stop it, that’s intimidating in itself. Everybody knows what Stanford is going to do. It’s just, are you going to stop them?”

Stanford’s defense carries the same attitude — a physicality and a confidence that was instilled by former coach Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked run defense, led by formidable linebackers Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. Stanford has 44 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in five games.

“They’re flying to the ball every play,” Notre Dame lineman Zack Martin said. “They want to get to the quarterback and take the quarterback out of the game. Whatever they can do to do that.”

Perhaps most alarming, the Cardinal is going to be angry coming off by far its worst effort of the season, an uncharacteristic 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona in which Stanford surrendered 617 yards, 491 through the air.

So the Irish know they’re in for a fight.

“We’re going to be in for a physical, hard-nosed four quarters of one of those good old-fashioned backyard brawls,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be that kind of game.”

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